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Making history: Notre Dame gives up record 6 TD passes in 49-14 rivalry loss to USC

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LOS ANGELES — Brian Kelly knew Notre Dame's disappointing season could go from bad to worse against rival Southern California, trying to contain a potent offense with a defense gutted by injuries.

But another spate of nicks and bruises saw the Fighting Irish's season finale end with a blowout loss.

Cody Kessler passed for 372 yards and threw two of his six touchdown passes to George Farmer, propelling USC to a 49-14 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday in the 85th edition of the intersectional matchup.

Adoree Jackson, Darreus Rogers and Nelson Agholor also caught TD passes in a dynamic first half for the Trojans (8-4), who jumped to a 35-0 lead in the second quarter and spent the second half celebrating a big finish to a wild autumn.

"We knew we were short-handed," Kelly said. "We just haven't been able to stop anybody. It's been a difficult run for us, so we knew it was going to be an uphill run when you lose as many key players and have to play as many freshmen as we have had to play."

USC easily reclaimed the Jeweled Shillelagh after two straight losses to the Irish, piling up 577 yards against Notre Dame's injury-plagued defense.

"Our future is ridiculously bright," said USC coach Steve Sarkisian, who won his first shot at Notre Dame. "We're going to be really good, and we're not going anywhere."

With Kessler's second-half scoring throw to Randall Telfer, Notre Dame yielded six touchdown passes for the first time in the program's 127-year history.

That defensive low caps a miserable second-half slide for the Irish (7-5), who have lost five of their last six games.

Already down five starters from the season opener because of injury — with two others lost to suspension before the season began — Notre Dame lost five more key defenders against USC.

Safety Austin Collinsworth aggravated a shoulder injury that derailed his senior season, while replacement Max Redfield suffered a broken rib and was being examined for possible internal bleeding. Defensive lineman Jacob Matuska (shoulder) and Jay Hayes (high ankle sprain) and linebacker Greer Martini also exited the game.

PHOTO: Southern California wide receiver Nelson Agholor is tackled by Notre Dame cornerback Cole Luke during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Southern California wide receiver Nelson Agholor is tackled by Notre Dame cornerback Cole Luke during the first half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)

"It has been a tough last three games with people going down. It is frustrating, but it is just the way the game goes and stuff you can't control," said defensive lineman Isaac Rochell, who stayed in the game despite a stinger. "The biggest thing is it can turn into an excuse and I think sometimes people use it as a crutch. That's the biggest problem. It affects your mindset and overall mental toughness."

Everett Golson struggled mightily before Malik Zaire replaced him late in the first half with Notre Dame already trailing by 35. Zaire led a scoring drive and finished with 170 yards passing, providing hope for Notre Dame's future.

But the present in this rivalry belongs to the Trojans, who rebounded from their lifeless effort last week in a blowout loss to UCLA in their other big rivalry game.

Kessler, who went 32 for 40, also became the first quarterback to throw five touchdown passes in a half against Notre Dame while completing 16 straight passes in a stretch spanning halftime. After setting his career high in completions, the junior finished the regular season with 3,505 yards passing and 36 TDs against just four interceptions.

"On merit, I think those numbers stand with any quarterback in the country," Kelly said.

The low stakes didn't matter to fans as USC and Notre Dame closed out two disappointing regular seasons on a brilliant sunny day at the Coliseum, which hosted the schools' first meeting on Dec. 4, 1926.

Obviously aware of Notre Dame's injury woes on defense, USC opened the game at a high offensive tempo. After JuJu Smith's diving TD catch was overturned by video review in USC's first drive, Kessler hit Farmer for a beautiful 48-yard TD moments later.

Jackson, USC's two-way freshman star, came out of the backfield for a 16-yard TD catch before Farmer capped the first quarter with a 31-yard TD catch down the seam.

Rogers and Agholor caught scoring passes while USC ran away from Notre Dame, which mounted nothing on offense with Golson behind center. Zaire sparked the Irish, getting a 49-yard completion on his first collegiate throw before rushing for an 11-yard score shortly before halftime.

Kelly thanked Sarkisian for not running up the score, even as the Trojans were in sight of the record 55 points scored in the series.

It was a stunning scene in the same venerable stadium where the Irish capped off an undefeated regular season two years ago.

The juxtaposition was not lost on Kelly, who said there would be an open competition for every position leading up to Notre Dame's bowl game, including quarterback.

"We have to remember where we are after today's loss," Kelly said. "It's a red-letter day for our football players and coaches alike. Two years ago, we were playing for a national championship. Today we got our butts beat, and it wasn't as close as the score."

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